An unbeaten century from Alex Hales enabled Nottinghamshire to maintain their challenge for the LV= County Championship title with a 5-wicket success over Northamptonshire at Wantage Road.
A mighty six from Hales took him to 102 not out and lifted Notts to their victory target of 211. The right-hander, on the day that he was anxiously waiting to hear if he had made the England ODI squad, scored his runs from 142 deliveries, with 16 fours and that mighty maximum hit high back over the head of bowler Andrew Hall.
Hales had shared in a stand of 122 with James Taylor, who made 37, to take the match away from the home side. His only life came on 89, with the finishing line in sight, as Hall put him down at slip off Neil Wagner.
Wagner, on debut, had bowled 21 overs without success in the first innings and a further 12 in the second before he rekindled Northants’ hopes of a shock win by removing Taylor and then Samit Patel in quick succession. The Hales drop was decisive.
Riki Wessels brought the match to a swift conclusion as 21 came off the next Wagner over, with the former Northants man clubbing a huge 6 over long on, his 22nd of the First Division season.
Hales was understandably overjoyed at seeing Notts to another important away victory.
“I’m absolutely delighted to get us over the line like that,” he said. “That’s such an important victory in our season but even after losing those early wickets we were still confident and I thought James Taylor played absolutely beautifully.”
Wessels’ late assault on Wagner meant that time was running out for the 25-year old to get to three figures.
“Riki Wessels totally took the game away from the at the end there and I thought I was running out of chances to get to a hundred. Following the tons for the Lions last week, at Lord’s on Thursday and now today I feel I’m in the best form of my career and I hope it continues.”
Notts had begun the day on 0-0 after nightwatchman Ajmal Shahzad had safely negotiated David Willey’s solitary over on the third evening.
His partner Steven Mullaney (0) perished to just the fourth ball of the day, driving at Mohammad Azharullah and nicking behind to Ben Duckett, wearing the gloves instead of the absent Adam Rossington.
The first runs came via extras as Willey’s first two deliveries both brushed the back of Shahzad’s pads to each run away for four leg byes.
It became 9-2 in the fourth over as Azharullah struck again, trapping Shahzad (0) lbw. Alex Hales punched Willey for back-to-back boundaries and another set of four leg byes then followed.
Michael Lumb (6) fell in the 11th over of the innings, wandering across his stumps and leaving his leg pole exposed to Willey.
Joined by James Taylor, Hales began to flourish – elegantly and repeatedly battering the advertising boards at extra cover.
Clever rotation of the strike and powerful execution of anything short and wide – often to the opening delivery of the over – enabled the two batsmen to walk off at lunch together, with the score reading 93-3.
Hales reached his 50 soon after lunch (73 balls 10x4) and then hit Willey for 3 fours in 4 deliveries, with the other ball going for 4 byes.
As the afternoon progressed a century seemed a near-certainty as Northants began to feel that the match was slipping away from them. The wickets of Taylor (37) caught behind – and Patel (13) driving loosely to cover – rejuvenated home hopes but they were soon extinguished as Wessels scored 29 not out (25 balls 4x4 1x6) in a rapid stand of 45 in 9.3 overs.
The home side had competed as equals for much of the four-day contest but having let Nottinghamshire escape, having been 25 for four on the first evening, the eventual outcome was ultimately predictable.
Nottinghamshire’s victory, their sixth of the season, earned them 23 points and keeps them hard on the heels of leaders Yorkshire, whilst Northants, still looking for their first Championship success of the season took only 4 points from the contest and slipped to their 10th defeat in 12 matches.